Toronto lent Jack to Canada

After the NDP's electoral breakthrough this.


After the NDP’s electoral breakthrough this spring, my old NOW colleague Ali Sharrif and I were reminiscing about Jack Layton.

Ali recalled, years ago, huddling in the sub shop a few doors down from the old NOW offices on the Danforth during a fierce snowstorm. He watched as a figure on a bike struggled through the snow. He thought the guy was crazy. As he got closer, Ali made him out – it was Jack, of course.

His friends and supporters will fondly remember the image of Jack wheeling around town.

A lone wind turbine at the Ex that proclaimed the possibilities of a sustainable future: that’s Jack. No big-box stores in Leslieville: that’s Jack, too.

But when it came to straight wins and losses, Jack’s local political career was marked as much by impossible challenges as by triumphs.

His failed 1991 mayoral bid against Toronto’s right-wing establishment candidate, June Rowlands, promising business as usual, was hard to take.

In 99, during the Lastman era, I took issue in these pages with Jack and Olivia’s seemingly soft stand against the right-wing agenda on council. What I failed to appreciate at the time was that for them, members of a minority on a conservative council, it was more important to quietly dialogue with Lastman and preserve what services they could for the city’s most vulnerable than it was to score points by calling the mayor out on the council floor.

This is what Enzo DiMatteo and I wrote for NOW’s November 2001 election endorsement, Jack’s last municipal stand: “Shut out of the power posts on council right from the opening bell, it’s been a frustrating three years for Jack Layton. Everybody was wondering what the marquee lefty was waiting for. Why was he laying off Mel? While [Layton’s] environmental task force made laudable recommendations, only a trickle of funding has been made available. And Layton’s had only marginal success tackling the homeless crisis. Still, he was working behind the scenes, raising the alarm on the weak sewer-use bylaw. He was at his best pounding his fist in outrage during the debate on the Adams Mine [the proposal, opposed by environmentalists to ship T.O. garbage to Kirkland Lake].”

The thing about Jack was that despite the long odds and the political failures, he never lost faith in the righteousness of his ideas. And his numerous hard-fought political battles here in Canada’s biggest city prepared him well for the cut and thrust of Ottawa.

Jack paved the way. His vision took hold. In 2002, David Miller ran and won on an anti-corruption and sustainable communities platform. Opposing a bridge to the Island Airport was now code for intact communities, not giving in to the whims of the city’s monied interests. That was Jack.

The Rob Fords will come and go. We must not forget the kind of city Jack stood for and never stopped fighting for.

news@nowtoronto.com

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